Harte says Tyrone 'treasure' matches against Dublin
By Michael Devlin
There will be no fear factor surrounding Tyrone’s visit to Croke Park on Saturday night, insists Mickey Harte.
In fact it will be quite the contrary, as Harte believes his team revels in the challenge of going up against All-Ireland Champions Dublin at the Jones’ Road venue.
“Our players like playing there, and traditionally over the last couple of years that has been the case for Tyrone players. They don’t see it as an away venue almost, they see it as a privileged place to be.
“I suppose when you’re playing against the Dubs that’s a unique experience as well, and I’ve always treasured those opportunities to play against Dublin, not because you know that the outcome is going to be very favourable for you. I think it is an experience that a lot of Gaelic football players should have, and I think in Tyrone we are very lucky to have had a lot of players who have that experience.”
Despite losing two of their opening three games, Dublin have been shaking off the early-season dust since, while not exactly hitting their top form.
They pacified a then-burgeoning Mayo three weeks ago with an eight-point win in Croke Park before going up a gear to quell a gutsy Roscommon challenge at Dr Hyde Park last day out. They were signs that Jim Gavin’s men are intensifying their performances week by week, and they now stand very firmly in the mix for a place in the Division One final.
Tyrone though have also been resurgent in recent weeks, and the ever-competitive Harte is by no means looking at Saturday’s showdown as a foregone conclusion. Instead he sees it as an opportunity to assess how his side are shaping up as they close out the league campaign and look ahead nine weeks to the Ulster Championship opener versus Derry.
“I see it as another two points to be fought for. I don’t think that anybody would be thinking at this stage of the year that you’re seeing Dublin at their peak. You’re just seeing a Dublin team that has a lot of quality and that are able to beat teams at any time of the year when they meet them. I think it’s a question of ‘how do we stand right now?’ in terms of trying to get a few more league points.
“It’s not a place where you go in expectation, it’s more in hope that you go. But it’s going to be a good barometer of the progress that we think we are making at the minute.”
Harte pointed to Dublin’s ability to replace quality with quality in recent years as one of their key attributes. Stars from the 2013 team - Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn and Michael Dara MacAuley – have had to settle for bit-part roles in recent campaigns, while the likes of Brian Fenton and Con O’Callaghan have emerged and proceeded to keep Dublin perpetually moving forward.
The unexpected departures of multiple All-Star winners Rory O’Carroll in 2016 and Diarmuid Connolly in 2018, as well as the sabbaticals of Paul Mannion (2015) and Jack McCaffrey (2016), would have been enough to rock any county team, but Dublin have been able to introduce other quality players to slot in and maintain their iron grip on Sam Maguire.
Last year saw Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan come in and establish themselves in the first team, while the stellar performances of Cormac Costello so far this season suggest that this could be the year he cements himself in Jim Gavin’s plans.
“It’s well-known they’re not short of options,” said Harte. “While they have people going out at the top end of the conveyor belt, they’ve lots of quality young men coming. The boys in the mid age range are serious operators, they have a lot of experience and quality, and a lot of titles to prove it.
“They’re a force to be reckoned with and it’s not hard to see why. They have four All-Irelands a row, and anyone else with that there you’d be saying they’re the team of the century. Dublin deserve that title too.”